You are the true expert on what works for you and for your children. Professional advice is undoubtedly helpful, but it needs to align with your own intuition and values. It’s fine to adapt philosophies and use what makes sense to you.
Boundary-based discipline: Children need boundaries to feel safe. If they don’t know where the boundaries are, they’ll “test” until they find them.
A toddler may test boundaries by throwing her spoon (or even her whole plate) to the floor. An older child might test limits by leaving her coloured pencils in a glorious mess on the rug or by taking an extremely long time to get ready in the mornings.
Clearly communicate your boundaries: “Please put my things back in my purse when you’re done looking at them.” If your child doesn’t heed your directions, follow through with a consequence.
Make the consequence a logical fit for the behaviour. For example, if your child leaves your wallet, hairbrush, and sunglasses strewn around the living room floor, she loses the privilege to inspect your purse for a while.
Give your child limited choices. Suppose your 5-year-old is loudly banging on her electronic toy piano with the volume on maximum. You respectfully ask her to turn it down. She ignores you. Offer a choice: “You can either turn the volume down now, or I’ll put the piano away until tomorrow.” This puts the responsibility in her hands.
Use natural consequences, too. If your grade-schooler forgets her lunch, don’t rush to school with it. Instead, let her experience the consequences.
Gentle discipline: A child can’t learn much about behaviour when he’s screaming and crying. He (and you) can benefit greatly from daily preventive techniques – strategies that minimise opportunities for misbehaviour.
Create routines so that your child feels grounded. Offer choices to give him a sense of control. Try something like, “Would you like to wear the red pajamas or the blue?” Give warnings before transitions: “We need to leave the playground in five minutes.”
Frame your requests positively. For example, say, “Please use your big boy voice,” instead of, “Don’t whine.” When possible, use “when, then” statements instead of outright no’s: “When we’re done with dinner, then we can go outside.”
When your child misbehaves, first consider if there’s an underlying problem, such as tiredness, boredom, or hunger. The misbehaviouyr may disappear once you address this need.
If not, turn to what author Elizabeth Pantley calls a “laundry bag” of tricks. This is a collection of go-to strategies, including silly games, distraction, redirection, validation, and self-soothing. You can pull a trick out of your bag whenever it’s time to refocus your child.
For example, if he refuses to take a bath, try making the washcloth “talk” to him in a playful voice. If this doesn’t work, try something else, such as validation and redirection. (“It’s hard when you have to do something you don’t want to do. How about if we see how quickly we can get it done? I’ll get a clock.”)
Positive discipline: This concept is based on misbehaviour as an opportunity for learning and engaging the child to help come up with a solution. Kids behave well when they feel encouraged and have a sense of belonging and self-worth. Misbehaviour often happens when children feel discouraged.
Talk with your child and try to find out the underlying cause of her misbehaviour.
For example, suppose your 3-year-old refuses to bring her plate to the sink. Is she afraid she’ll break the plate? Is she trying to get attention? Perhaps it gives her a sense of power. Or maybe she’s hurt about something else and is trying to “get you back.”
Once you know the reason, give her the right kind of encouragement and work out a solution.
If she’s struggling with powerlessness, you could encourage her by saying, “We need to get the table clean. Can you help me figure out how to do it?”
Another example: Your 8-year-old spills juice on the couch and the two of you decide that the solution is for her to steam clean the stain (using her allowance to pay for the steamer rental). This is a task she might actually enjoy.
It doesn’t mean she’ll continue to spill juice on the couch in order to get to use the steamer. It means she’s learning how to take responsibility for a mistake – and better yet, she’s invested in her own learning.